Dental Hygienist

How to Become a Dental Hygienist
Dental Hygienist Job Duties
Skills and Qualities of a Dental Hygienist
Dental Hygienist Salaries
Influential Professional Dental Hygienists
Leading Organizations for Dental Hygienists
Top Cities for Dental Hygienist Jobs
Other Careers of Interest

How to become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists must be licensed by their state of residence to provide dental hygiene care and patient education. In order to be licensed, most states require dental hygienists to be graduates of a commission-accredited dental hygiene program. In addition to completing a program of study in dental hygiene, most hygienists must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, as well as a state written and clinical licensure examination. Most states also require completion of an examination regarding the legal aspects of dental hygiene practice. Licensed dental hygienists may use the R.D.H. designation after their name, to indicate their completion of state licensure.

To become a dental hygienist, one must complete a dental hygiene program at a community college, technical college, dental school or university. Community college programs usually take two years to complete. The two year programs offer a diploma, certificate or associate degree. A four year university program will provide a baccalaureate degree. Some dental hygienists continue their education to obtain a Master's degree, which would be used in the fields of education, research or administration. Accredited dental hygiene programs require an average of 1,948 hours of study. Many of those hours are devoted to supervised clinical dental hygiene instruction.

The courses included in the dental hygiene program are science and health related. These courses can include chemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology. Students in dental hygiene also take courses in dental science, including dental anatomy, oral pathology, radiography, pain control and dental materials. Oral health education, preventive counseling and patient management are also a part of a dental hygienists course of study.

What does a Dental Hygienist do?

Dental hygienists work with the dentist to provide educational, clinical and therapeutic services to dental patients. Their main focus is preventive care and patient education. Each state has regulations that specify the range of services that can be performed by dental hygienists. Depending on the state, dental hygienists may perform oral health assessments, including patient screening, medical history, dental charting, and examination of head and oral cavity for disease. Dental hygienists may also make impressions of patient's teeth, expose and develop x-rays, apply fluoride and sealants, remove tarter and plaque, administer local anesthetics, and provide nutritional counseling and instruction in self-care to prevent disease. Dental hygienists help patients maintain oral health. Hygienists teach their patients how to choose a toothbrush, how to brush and floss their teeth, and how to maintain a diet that supports good oral health.

What skills or qualities do I need to become a Dental Hygienist?

Dental hygienists should enjoy helping people and educating them about oral health care. Dental hygienists need very good interpersonal skills because they work closely with dentists, dental assistants, office staff and patients. A large part of the job is keeping the patient comfortable and relaxed. Good manual dexterity is also critical for using dental instruments in the sensitive areas of a patient's mouth.

How much does a Dental Hygienist make?

Salaries depend largely upon the responsibilities in the specific position, the years of experience, as well as the geographic location and type of practice in which the hygienist works. They may be paid hourly, daily, salary or on commission.

Many dental hygienists work part-time. Flexible scheduling is a hallmark of this career, which allows hygienists to work 2 to 3 days per week if they choose. Some hygienists work in more than one dental office.

In 2007, the average salary of dental hygienists was $64,910. The average hourly rate was $31.21. Some of the highest paying industries for dental hygienists were outpatient care centers and dental offices, with salaries ranging from $68,590 to $65,140. Most dental hygienists are employed by dental offices.

Who are some influential professionals in this field?

The American Dental Hygienists' Association's Board of Trustees include Jean Connor, RDH, president of ADHA in 2007-2008 and Diann Bomkamp, RDH, BSDH the president-elect. Other members of the Board of Trustees are Vice President Lynn Ramer, LDH, Treasurer Hope Garza, RDH, BS and the Immediate Past President, Marge Green, RDH, MS.

Jean Connor, RDH lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She held numerous positions with ADHA before becoming president. She also served as president of the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association (MDHA). She received her associate in science degree in dental hygiene from Middlesex Community College in 1994.

President-Elect Diann Bomkamp, RDH, BSDH lives in St. Louis, Missouri. She has held multiple positions within ADHA before becoming president-elect. Bomkamp has a Bachelor of Science Degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has been in clinical dental hygiene practice for over 38 years. In 1992, Bomkamp received the ADHA/Warner Lambert Excellence in Dental Hygiene Award.

What are some leading organizations in this field?

The American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) was founded in 1923. The group's goal is to develop communication and cooperation among dental hygienists. This is the largest organization promoting the professional interests of dental hygienists in the United States. Members receive professional support, educational programs as well as opportunities to participate in decisions of the association.

The California Dental Hygienists' Association promotes the oral health of the general public in California. One of the goals of the organization is to improve access to oral health care to traditionally underserved populations. Founded in 1926, the Florida Dental Hygiene Association (FDHA) represents the dental hygienists who practice in Florida. Their mission is to raise awareness of oral health care and to extend access to quality oral health care.

What are the top cities for Dental Hygienist jobs?

Job prospects for dental hygienists are excellent, as the workload for dentists increases.

Michigan, Vermont and Washington are states that employ the most dental hygienists. The top paying states are Alaska, Washington and California. Dental hygienists that work in the Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA metropolitan area make $54.05 as an hourly mean wage, while those who work in Salinas, CA make $48.73 hourly mean wage. Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA is another high-paying metropolitan area with dental hygienists making $46.92 as an hourly mean wage.

Other Careers of Interest

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